Aetiology and Management of Cancer
Understanding the aetiology and management of cancer in Biopsychosocial perspective
Cancer is one of the most common diseases in the world today and unfortunately, there are more than 200 different types of cancers that can affect human beings across all walks of life. Though it is more common among older people, it also affects children, teenagers and young adults. In the UK alone, more than 309,500 people are being diagnosed with cancer every year and this is roughly about 850 people a day. It is estimated that one in every three people will develop some kind of cancer in their lifetime and in the UK alone, someone is diagnosed with it every two minutes (Cancer Research UK, 2011).
Cancer is one of the biggest fears facing most people today and rightly so, because it contributed to the death of 156,090 people in 2009 alone (Cancer Research UK, 2011). More than half these people died due to breast, lung, colorectal and prostrate cancer while the other forms of cancer contributed to the remaining half. Prostrate cancer is the number one killer among men while for women, it is breast cancer.
With the high prevalence of cancer, many researchers are looking into the reasons that cause it because this is the logical step forward. Preventing cancer in the first place may end up being easier than treating it with advanced forms of treatment such as chemotherapy. Aetiology is the study of the causes of cancer and this is where a lot of effort is going into now. This is because cancer is neither a contagious disease nor is it hereditary always. Research has shown that all human beings have a genetic predisposition to cancer due to the presence of certain genes that cause cancer and these genes are known as proto-oncogenes. Many factors such as the environment, diet, lifestyle and other biopsychosocial factors act on these genes and mutate them into active cancer-causing oncogenes. These agents that trigger the mutation of these genes are known as agents and when this happens, it leads to the growth of tumors and abnormal cell divisions. Some of the broad factors, including the chemical and physical agents, that play a role in the occurrence of cancer has been discussed below.
One of the factors that we tend to ignore is the environment because in today's fast-paced life, we have no time to stop and look around what's happening around us. Unfortunately, environment is one of the major causes of cancer today because of the vast number of physical and chemical pollutants that have the potential to induce cancer in human beings.
The environmental factors of cancer are those that are outside the body and have some role in causing the tumor or growing it within the human body. These outside factors enter the body through a variety of ways and interact with the normal and malignant cells to cause cancer. According to cancer.gov (2011), 2 out of every 3 cancer cases are related to some kind of environmental factor such as tobacco, pollution, alcohol, food, radiation, waste and chemicals. Out of this, tobacco accounts for about 29% to 31% of cancer cases, diet accounts for 20% to 50%, bacterial and viral infections contribute to 10% to 20%, radiation causes 5% to 7%, of cancer cases and finally, pollution is linked to 1% to 5% of cases respectively.
Firstly, we will deal with the factors that are related to the environment in a general sense such as pollution, exposure to radiation and harmful chemicals. One of the most prominent kinds of cancer is the lung cancer and the most important agent for the occurrence of this form of cancer is bronchogenic carcinoma. Exposure to asbestos is considered to be one of the top reasons for lung cancer. In the UK, there was a sharp rise in the number of lung cancer patients who lived or worked near ship yards and were exposed to varying amounts of asbestos over a certain number of years (Stine & Miller, 2006). This study shows that the substances present in asbestos enter the lung through prolonged inhalation and this causes a variety of problems, from blockages to lung cancer.
In another study, there was a positive correlation between environmental contaminants and breast cancer. One of the primary contaminant was organochlorines that are freely present in the atmosphere today and include polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), chlorinated dioxins and furans, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) and pesticides such as DDT. These contaminants were found in human breast milk and they exhibit estrogenic and antiadrogenic activity that boosts the chances of breast cancer (Salehi et al., 2008).
The PCBs are found in a variety of things today including flame retardants and paints and is used extensively in the electrical industry. Most of these contaminants enter the body through diet, especially fish that is caught off contaminated waters. The PAHs are another potential contaminant found in the environment due to fossil fuel extraction, transportation, industrial processes, cigarettes and even smoked and grilled foods. The Environment Canada and Health Canada (1994) identified five particles of PAHs that were regarded as dangerous to human beings. They explained that when these particles entered the human body, they are stored in fat tissues and they inhibit the regulatory proteins. These protein help in DNA repair and detoxification and when these proteins do not play the role, it makes the body more susceptible to diseases such as breast cancer (Salehi et al., 2008).
The environment also plays a role in the growth and development of a fetus inside a mother's body. When a mother is exposed to certain agents in the environment such as pollution and cigarette smoke, it reaches the fetus and is metabolized by its body (McAllister, 2004). Thus, the interaction between different environmental agents can increase the chances of cancer even before birth. Though this research is in its nascent stages, researchers are fairly confident on the effect of chemicals on the replication and differentiation of different kinds of cells in the fetus and embryo present inside the mother's body.
The good news is that it is possible to contain exposure to these harmful ingredients through proper understanding, abstinence and conscious health choices. Staying away from harmful pollutants such as lead and asbestos is sure to decrease the chances of cancer. This is because the chemical pollutants will have little contact with the human genes and this means, the chances for mutation is greatly reduced. This is a key aspect of cancer management and the only way to help people from going through the pain and treatment of cancer is to spread awareness about the presence of these harmful chemicals and educating the public to stay away from it. In the meantime, the Government can work with private companies to clean up this environmental mess so that the presence of these harmful agents can be reduced to a large extent.
Other than the environment, another major factor that causes cancer is the lifestyle factors. Smoking, lack of proper diet that includes appropriate servings of whole grain, fruits and vegetables and a sedentary lifestyle are known to contribute to cancer in a big way.
Smoking is related to a myriad of cancers and some of the most prominent ones are lung cancer, prostate cancer and bladder cancer. The carcinogens present in cigarettes cause these numerous kinds of cancers as they interfere with the body's functioning and metabolism.
Bladder cancer is the most important tumor in the urinary system and it accounts for one in 28 cases of cancer in the UK. In fact, it is the fourth most prevalent cancer among males and eighth among females (Anderson, 2009). The most important cause of bladder cancer is smoking. Tobacco smoke contains more than 60 different carcinogens and out of these, 4-aminobiphenyl (4ABP), benzidine and 2-naphthylamine are classified as human bladder carcinogens and they have been positively correlated with bladder cancer (Anderson, 2009). It is estimated that current smokers have three times chance than non-smokers to get bladder cancer while ex-smokers have double the chance of non-smokers when it comes to bladder cancer.
The same risks are also applicable for passive smokers. Passive smokers are those who do not smoke tobacco on their own, but are exposed to the fumes of tobacco when their spouse, father or any other member of the family is an active smoker. One group that is most vulnerable to second hand smoke is children. In the UK alone, more than 25% of men and women smoke and this is more prevalent among low-income groups. This also means they live in poor housing conditions in some of the poorest neighborhoods in the UK. As a result, a huge 40% of children are believed to be exposed to second hand smoke. Children from birth to five years are the most affected because they stay at home with their parents and also, their lungs are small and immature and their rapid breathing forces them to inhale…